Thoughts on the BJC Lease Deal, and Forest Park More Generally
I posted the following on Wednesday in the comments on a post on PubDef.net.
Also, Urban Review and Pub Def have follow-ups on the Wednesday meeting of the aldermanic committee charged with reviewing the finances of the lease proposal.
The committee meets again this morning after the full Board of Aldermen meeting adjourns.
I don't care what anybody else says: I know this land is part of Forest Park!
Given just how many people in this city are on the BJC and/or WashU payroll (including me), it would be hard to find somebody WITHOUT a conflict-of-interest in this situation.
I still have misgivings though.
The lease really should include:
1) Annual lease payment increases tied to inflation. In 90 years, $1.5 million will be a pittance. It'll probably cost $10 to buy a can of soda by then!
2) Specific locations in Forest Park or nearby where all recreational facilities - tennis courts, racquetball courts, playground - will be replaced.
3) Some idea of the plans for both pieces of ground. We keep forgetting that the open green space SOUTH of Clayton Avenue is included in this deal, and that space will probably get a little bigger after the I-64 interchange is rebuilt. NO surface parking should be permitted!
I still wonder about the timing of this announcement relatively in tandem with the Art Museum's expansion plans.
Could it be this was announced around the same time to deflect attention from yet another intrusion into relatively pristine Forest Park greenspace (compared to the BJC site) by a taxpayer-funded institution of dubious economic significance like SLAM?
Don't get me wrong - I'd much rather spend a day at the Art Museum than at Barnes-Jewish. By a long shot. But SLAM is a semi-public institution that deserves just as much public oversight into its actions as BJC!
Additional points I should add:
1) the SLAM expansion is totally within the footprint of their existing lease. That's a big difference; the new addition will be pretty much where the surface parking lot is now behind the Art Museum.
2) Meanwhile, the Zoo is nearing completion on a $2-million monumental sculpture called Animals Always that, as best I can tell, is very much drive-by oriented and dramatically changes the face of that high-traffic entrance to Forest Park itself. Hopefully, the pedestrian exit nearby for the #90 Hampton bus stop will remain; but this corner is not going to be an entrance to the Zoo at all.
And for that matter, just how long has the entrance (at one time the main entrance) at Washington and Government Drives been closed off? I know most people coming in from the north nowadays go through The Living World; but that closed entrance is very close to the #90 Hampton and (starting May 27nd) #03 Forest Park Shuttle bus stops.
Why make people walk all the way to The Living World when there's a perfectly serviceable entryway gate right there by the MetroBus stops? Is this an accessibility problem, a homeland security concern, or just about making more money off concessions and parking?
3) Ald. Bosley noted in Wednesday's meeting that it seems quite likely BJC would also want the parking area to the east of the tennis courts/playground site along Euclid, rebuilt only a few years ago. They already pretty much own the parking area along the north side of Barnes-Jewish plaza; and CID has that parking lot south of Clayton Avenue. All these paved areas, of course, were part of old Kingshighway.
While that's not significant in terms of park space, it does represent a gradual privatization of the former city revenue stream from metered parking in those areas where demand for parking is quite high indeed.
4) I would really hate to see those tennis courts and playground disappear. I hope they can be replaced somewhere nearby, within Forest Park or another park within the vicinity. And that should be at BJC's expense - comparable to the deal almost 10 years ago when BJC bought and demolished Stix and Michael schools from St Louis Public Schools to build that massive parking garage (with entrances way too big for safe pedestrian crossing) and now The Parkway Hotel on the block bounded by Forest Park, Taylor, Parkview, and Euclid.
Back then, the deal was that BJC would get the property in return for building a replacement building for Stix Early Childhood Center Elementary School (previously, the old building was Stix ILC Elementary; that program has since moved to Mullanphy).
The replacement building, of course, is a rather out-of-the-way location on property BJC owned or purchased, part of the old PepsiCo bottling plant site (remember that Pepsi moved to the Union Seventy Center complex, the old Chevy plant, off Union and Natural Bridge) bounded by Clayton, Tower Grove, Boyle, and I-64. It's not really an ideal location for a little kids' school, especially since additional exit ramps are planned in that vicinity. But it is a nice sized site for a school; I believe it was completed and opened in 1997 or so.
This could be a good deal for all parties involved. But more discussion and debate is necessary. I don't perceive this as something that needs to be decided and initiated immediately, as some might suggest. Deliberation is important.